Documentary to chart the life of singer Eva Cassidy

Eva CassidySky Arts 1 is to air the UK premiere of what has been described as an ‘extraordinary documentary’ looking at the talent and life of singer Eva Cassidy who died in 1996 – before she became famous. The documentary Timeless Voice looks at how she posthumously became a star and the legacy she has left behind.

Eva Cassidy has sold 10 million records worldwide yet died 17 years ago knowing neither fame nor fortune. However, she left behind a legacy that would go on to cause a phenomenon in the entertainment industry and inspire an entire generation of female singers.

This extraordinary documentary hears from those who knew her best, as well as the artists and music moguls whose own careers have been shaped by the silken voice of a music legend. Mick Fleetwood, Katie Melua, Sir Terry Wogan, Michael Bolton and Carrie Grant are among the contributors giving their unique perspectives on how and why Cassidy rose from a jobbing musician with a pocket full of cover versions to an internationally acclaimed star.

Born in Washington DC on the 2nd of February 1963, Cassidy was a budding musician from the age of nine and would eventually craft a modest career playing gigs at small bars in her local town without any mainstream success. At the time, any up-and-comer had to play covers, so that’s what she did.

But how did she stand out from the crowd? Mick Fleetwood reflects: “She was fearless. She would go into areas that most people wouldn’t dare to. I’d say ‘No, no, don’t go there that’s somebody else’s territory’. But if Eva ‘felt’ a song she would say ‘I am singing it.’”

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in her version of Over the Rainbow. A song most closely associated with Judy Garland, Eva made it her own, as vocal coach Carrie Grant elaborates:

“I cannot imagine what Eva Cassidy was thinking of when she chose to make it sound the way it does, it’s just genius. She plays with the timing, she plays with the melody, she completely changes it, she redefines this song.”

And it was precisely her ability to reinvigorate established classics that makes her a star in her own right today. BRIT Award nominee Katie Melua discusses the subtle nuances found within the virtual duet she recorded of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, adding her voice to a recording of Cassidy’s version.

“It’s interesting because there were so many little drops she does, little accidental notes, that as someone harmonising that, you have to follow it. But whether you’re a third up or a fourth up you have to be careful that it doesn’t end up clashing.”

On the 2nd of November 1996, Eva Cassidy died of skin cancer at the age of 33. Andrew Bowles, MD of recording and management company Dramatico, reflects on the difficulties of making her a star posthumously:

“When she died no one really knew who Eva Cassidy was as a singer. Launching an artist no longer alive is a major challenge. All we had to go on was the pure quality of the music.”

And it is because of her profoundly eloquent quality of music that she is remembered today. For an artist who drifted with little artistic direction for much of her career, the explanation for Eva Cassidy’s popularity is simple: she possessed a mesmerising soprano voice with a vast and seemingly effortless range, faultless pitch and a gift for reinventing some of the greatest songs ever.

In the UK she became a chart success following regular airplay initially on BBC Radio 2‘s breakfast show, hosted then by Sir Terry Wogan. The show’s producer, the late Paul Walters, heard Somewhere Over The Rainbow and added it to the programme’s playlist. “The e-mails, phone calls and faxes flooded in”, Walters told the BBC in 2001.

Eva Cassidy Timeless Voice will air on Sky Arts 1, Friday the 15th of March at 10pm

[Reported by Ian Westhead]

4 comments

  • Too bad they bothered to interview Katie Melua. She is just an Eva Cassidy name dropper, that has to work Eva’s name and even her music into everything since her own music is on the weak side. As a new musician it would have been ok for Katie to mention having Eva as an influence, but Katie has been on the scene for ten years now and still has to name drop all the time. The so called duet “What a Wonderful World” was just sickening. Michael Bolton is another sad case. His “duet” with “Fields of Gold” is just lame, and has no value except for Eva’s voice carrying the song. I’m surprised the two of them don’t do Tupac or Elvis duets also.

    • Jenna,

      I have to agree with you. If Eva stands for anything, it’s being unique. It’s just disgusting when singers take advantage of the beauty and creativity of someone else by name dropping, especially when they’re not here to object. I’m very glad you mentioned it because I feel the same way.

  • I’m not that crazy about the posthumous duets concept either, at least not when it’s someone the artist never knew, but I am aware that a lot of people enjoy them. Think of all the sampling and other uses of other material today that some people consider an art form. A turntable is a musical instrument? Who knew? That must inform how people think about these things. I learned to look at this way; if three people are standing around talking about Eva Cassidy, then that’s a good thing.

  • Long Live Eva. She would have been happy that people want to keep her memory alive!

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